Disgraced consultancy PwC Australia has received another major Federal Government contract, this time an 11-month, $163,900 deal with the Department of Education — posted Friday to online government procurement portal AusTender.
It follows a $55,000 deal posted the week before — also from the Department of Education — to Sayers Group, the private company run by former PwC CEO Luke Sayers.
The PwC contract posted Friday covers the period April 20, 2023 to March 22, 2024, and so was struck at least five weeks ago, although only just made public.
PwC has been caught selling top-secret government data to multinationals seeking to rip-off Australians by avoiding corporate tax, with revelations this month that dozens of PwC bosses and staff worldwide were aware of the illegal activity, spanning back to 2014.
New Federal Government contract posted Friday: $164,900 for “Addressing skills needs through online micro-credentials”. Source: AusTender
The Federal Government has not officially banned new contracts with PwC, although has updated its procurement policy to state officials, “must” (in bold) consider “unethical behaviour” such as breaches of “confidentiality provisions” when choosing suppliers.
That update — a “notification of significant event” — has been reported as an “effective ban” on PwC from applying for federal work and was posted by the Department of Finance on May 19, which was 11 days ago.
Yet there is a 42-day lag between contracts being awarded and federal agencies being required to notify AusTender, suggesting there could be more PwC contracts –– and even possibly more Sayers Group contracts — in the pipeline yet to emerge.
For example, on April 20 the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations disclosed a $770,000 contract for “computer services” with PwC for a 12-month period starting on February 21 — which was two months earlier.
While Sayers Group has not been banned from contracts, neither has PwC, and the wording of the May 19 policy update would almost certainly equally capture Sayers Group.
Department of Education $55,000 contract to Sayers Group announed May 16. Source: AusTender
Sayers Group is a mini replica of PwC that Luke Sayers founded in 2020.
He was CEO of PwC Australia from 2012 to 2020 — and so in charge at all relevant times of the tax affair. Before becoming CEO he was PwC Australia’s head of tax.
On Thursday Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil told ABC Radio PwC’s actions were a “grotesque betrayal of trust of the Australian government and of our citizens”.
“We will not stop until we get to the bottom of exactly what has happened here. It is a disgraceful incident and it must be properly investigated and the people responsible held to account,” O’Neil said.
Regarding banning existing PwC contracts, O’Neil said there were “legal constraints”.
“I can tell you there is some furious work going on within government to understand what the legal constraints are on us here to make sure that we are appropriately addressing the issues that have been raised,” she said.
“But we can’t break the law just because we’re the government.”
As revealed by The Klaxon last week, Sayers Group has been given over $6.2m in Federal Government grants in just the past 24 months.
Remarkably, given the seriousness of the scandal, Sayers is outright refusing to provide any comment.
He has failed to provide a single on-the-record comment regarding the affair since the scandal broke.
Sayers’ actions are in contrast to a video that surfaced last week, of him at PwC discussing the importance of “accountability” and “transparency”.
“Organisations need to be much more articulate and transparent of their rights, their wrongs, and their ill-doings,” he says.
“(For) any improvement in societal trust, I think that transparency piece is just so pivotal.
“If we can’t fall on our sword if we’ve screwed up…then you’re not going to bridge that trust divide,” says Sayers.
“Transparency…is just so pivotal” — Luke Sayers
Sayers appears in a video while CEO at PwC Australia. Source: Supplied
On Friday Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill, chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, called for accountability from Sayers in an open letter.
“The actions of PwC were a direct assault on our nation’s capacity to fund our schools, hospitals and public services – and in that way was a direct assault on every Australian citizen,” writes O’Neill.
“All this occurred during the leadership in Australia of Luke Sayers.
“All this occurred during the leadership in Australia of Luke Sayers” — Senator Deborah O’Neill
“He has questions to answer about the behaviour that took place on his watch,” O’Neill writes.
Yesterday it was reported that Sayers and his wife Cate were preparing to depart on an “extended holiday” to Europe.
PwC yesterday launched its latest bid to avoid accountability — an actual investigation into the scandal — releasing a statement that nine unnamed partners would “go on leave” and it would “ring-fence” its Federal Government contracts to “minimise conflicts of interest”.
In its statement yesterday two chairs of PwC’s “Governance Board” had also “decided to step down” from that role (but will remain with PwC) and would release the findings of its “review” in full (it had earlier said it would release only a summary).
At the heart of PwC’s response to the scandal is its increasingly desperate attempts to prevent an actual investigation — one conducted by government and authorities — and instead have only its own private “review”, which would be conducted by businessman Ziggy Switkowski, under terms set by PwC.
The latest response was roundly criticised by experts.
On Thursday last week the federal Finance Department — which oversees government contracts — had ordered PwC to “stand down” staff who knew about tax leaks from working on any existing or future government contracts.
“In relation to the breach of confidentiality, our clients were not involved in any wrongdoing and no confidential information was used to enable clients to pay less tax,” PwC’s acting CEO Kristin Stubbins wrote.
“The sentiments expressed by Kirstin Stubbins are demonstrably false,” said Associate Professor Dr Andy Schmulow, one of the nation’s top governance experts.
“We know this was not confined to tax — the Federal Department of Agriculture reported abuse of confidential information by PwC.”
There was also evidence that “the firms to which PwC hocked this information knew it was gained under suspect conditions”, Schmulow said.
“Once again, this is spin and ‘impression management’.”
“Once again, this is spin and ‘impression management’,” — Dr Andy Schmulow
Greens Senator Barbara Pocock on the scandal. Source: Twitter
Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill, who has been driving the scrutiny of PwC for months, said PwC’s ongoing failure to name “53 partners” at PwC connected to the scandal represented “continued obfuscation and cover-up”.
“I don’t think anyone can have confidence in the governance of PwC,” she told Guardian Australia, reportedly citing PwC’s opposition to separating government work from non-government work when it fronted a 2019 parliamentary inquiry.
Earlier yesterday Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told 2SM Radio the PwC affair was “completely unacceptable”.
“It is a terrible indictment, action is required, and it’s appropriate that the authorities now undertake those tasks,” he said.
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